For most of the Easter holidays I traveled to visit friends outside of Austria. To minimize travels costs – and maximize time with friends – I decided to take a bus to Paris, then a budget flight to Budapest, and then a train home to Vienna. I was prepared for the bus trip to be awful, but it was – unbelievable – almost pleasant. Two seats to myself the whole time, books to read, snacks to eat, frequent breaks. I could recommend it! The one strange bit was stopping at a border check, I think in Liechtenstein. They collected our IDs, ran a check, and then returned the whole stack. (I didn’t really like the people in front of me in the bus sorting through the stack to find their IDs — what if someone took my passport?!). But, one person proved to cause a border patrol dilemma; and, after much time passed, we went on without him.
Arriving in Paris, I made my way to the address I’d been given for James and Davenne, friends from Knoxville. I met James in grad school at UT, and his wife Davenne is currently working on art history doctoral research in Paris. The days in this iconic city also included visiting Ernesto, a cellist friend I know from Vienna and concerts together, and Pauline and her family. Pauline is a Parisian violinist, a dear friend, and Hannah and I visited her and her family in Provence the summer Hannah visited me here.
Rarely have I enjoyed an equally relaxed vacation – so often I am unnecessarily anxious about work left behind, or confused by not having to be busy, or not sure what hosts or fellow travelers are expecting. However, Paris was a gracious gift – wonderful conversation and outings with friends, easy-going but active approach to sight-seeing, and (how could it be otherwise in Paris?) such incredible food…whether a roadside treat of crepes, or a “simple” (i.e., splendid) dinner cooked by a real Frenchman, or a “simple” (i.e., fabulous) soup and salad supper at Pauline’s, or heavenly butter-rich pastries that disappeared with delight and were walked off over Paris’ sprawling landscape, or bread and cheese and apples picked up at the local grocery for a very satisfying picnic, or sitting in a café with the most glorious piece of lemon pie beckoning. (Note: If too much culinary talk annoys you, read further at your own peril – or practice the virtue of forbearance, and offer a prayer on behalf of those tempted by gluttony in the face of the glories of the cheese board and butter-infused pastries.)
The first evening James and Davenne, their landlord, Ernesto, and I headed to an organ concert at Notre Dame. It was a late evening, because afterwards the landlord (temporarily in Paris and staying with James and Davenne) offered to make dinner. Of course, this had to mean before-dinner drinks, then a spinach/cheese tart (accompanied by a carrot salad Davenne had made), followed by mash potatoes served with chicken and crème fresh on top, followed by a cheese course, followed by bananas flambé. A bottle of white wine disappeared with the first two courses — and Jean-Pierre (the landlord) was sure we needed a nice bottle of red to go with the cheese. After all of that, I really needed the espresso to end the meal (now nearing midnight) before finding my back to the hostel where I was staying for one night. …It was cool to exit the subway station with a view of the distant, lit Eiffel Tower.
The next morning I walked an hour to James and Davenne’s place, passing a couple of familiar spots (Notre Dame, Pompidou Center). Ah, the smell of browned butter (do you sense a theme?) and of croissants, the view of huge and colorful meringues in the shop window of a patisserie.
…Sipping PG Tips tea and sharing three pastries was a great way to start the day together. We went to an English speaking church for quite a decent service and then walked pretty much all afternoon — to the Eiffel Tower, over to the Arch de Triumph, down the Champ de Elysee, and then to meet up with Ernesto for a concert — then back to their neck of the woods for crepes. Quite a lot of good conversation along the way. Chilly and cloudy weather, but no real threat of rain. …Finally, I made it to Pauline’s place at midnight. Her family is extremely hospitable – the first night I was there none of them were there, but instead two Swiss guests, a German friend, and me. Most were leaving the next day, and a Korean student was arriving, along with our hosts themselves the following day!
Monday morning I did a bit of reading for uni and popped out long enough to find a boulangerie for a breakfast. (Can you believe that a splendid almond pastry is only about a Euro fifty?) After an exodus of the other Kempf-household temporary inhabitants, I walked toward James and Davenne’s, taking in a bit of the Jarden des Plantes (botanical gardens) on the way. (There were poppies blooming, of all things in March.) I practiced a bit of piano on James’ keyboard, and after baquette sandwiches for lunch, we caught up with Davenne at the library where she had headed to do a bit of research. They wanted to take me to a wonderful tea and cakes shop nearby the library – absolutely fabulous!!!! We split the most glorious big slice of lemon pie with magnificent piled-high meringue, as well as a lovely pear and chocolate tart — both with shortbread crusts. Man, oh man.
Then James headed to French class, and Davenne and I walked part of a promenade similar to NYC’s High Line. Not much makes for a better afternoon than a good walk and meaningful conversation. Then we headed back to the flat, via the grocery store, and got started on dinner…vegetarian lentil stew, along with potato/turnip pancakes and turkey breast “steaks.” Salad, bread, cheese. Butter fried apples, with rum-soaked raisins, topped with crème fresh. (Of course we had to go all out – the landlord was our guest this time!) More “Frenchness” from the landlord — such as describing how the French have to guard the names of their cheeses – Brie and Camembert are places, not just types of cheese! Fun!
Everyone was feeling pretty tired, but I soldiered on with more sights in the afternoon – a huge park on the western outskirts of Paris, then back to the Arch de Triumphe (and up all the stairs – the elevator was out of order).
In the evening, a group of us went to a fabulous concert that a friend of Ernesto’s had arranged tickets for. Vivaldi, Mendelssohn, Shostakovitch, etc. Really fabulous.
I came home to the Kempfs’ to find Pauline’s Mom, the German friend, and Pauline sitting around drinking tea and eating the zucchini bread I’d brought! I joined the circle of tea drinkers and ended up staying up late with a second wind of energy!
Wednesday morning I met up with Ernesto in the northern part of the city, near where he lives, for some Rachmaninoff and Piazzolla music. Good to play together again! Then he made us lunch before I met James and Davenne at the Louvre. It can be hard to visit a museum with friends. However, we were all up for two or so hours of looking, with over-lapping pace and taste. So, it was perfect. …I’d decided I was going to feel bad if I didn’t go, and it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be. And, how cool to go with an art historian! We focused on Dutch/Flemish painting, and also saw some other worthy pieces. A Rembrandt painting of lace was about the most amazing, plus a huge oil painting that somehow looked like it was in watercolors (Italian, I think).
We ended up at Pauline’s for dinner, with Ernesto joining us later. We had a wonderful combined meal and, again, delightful conversation. It was fun to have friends from different spheres all enjoying each other.
And a few more photos (the first for any Jerome K. Jerome fans):
Thursday I had to say goodbye to Paris. But, the trip wasn’t over! On to Budapest! Budapest, from my short acquaintance, feels a bit like Vienna and Prague mixed. Definitely eastern European feel, with architecture that harks back to Hapsburg days and the glories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The next day Marianna showed me around quite a lot – “Buda” is particularly wonderful. Located across the river from “Pest, ” it commands a lovely outlook over the Danube and wider city and boasts an incredibly beautiful church and other wonderful architecture.
We also saw the basilica and parliament in Pest, met friends at a beautiful cafe (where you can feel free to buy something fancy, prices being lower here), and returned home for lunch. At 17:00, I went to the opera (Wagner’s Parsifal, traditionally played on Good Friday), which lasted till 10:00. I’m not a big Wagner fan, but it was a lovely opportunity – beautiful hall and just 1000 Ft. (about 3 Euros), since Marianna’s former teacher, who was singing a minor roll, had extra tickets on hand.
On Saturday I had breakfast with Maria (Marianna’s mom – Marianna had to head back to Vienna already on Friday evening). We didn’t talk a lot – her Hungarian and Russian and my English and German left us with precious little common language!), but smiles and hand signals and a few words were enough!
I explored on my own for much of Saturday, visiting an Easter market, Parliament (fantastic architecture – I’ll know to book a tour in advance next time, as it was already sold out), strolling through a large island park. In the afternoon I took the train home to Vienna. What a wonderful trip!
The next day was Easter! So, up bright and early (Daylight Savings) for a run, then organizing things for the morning church service. Our small Easter choir sang an arrangement of the American folk song “I Know that My Redeemer Lives,” and the day – both at church and afterwards – was spent festively.
Monday several friends came over for an Easter brunch. I had wanted an excuse to extend the celebration – why not embrace the 40 days of the Easter season? So, I baked Mom’s recipe for hot cross buns and a couple quiches. It was a wonderful, relaxed visit. Most of those invited didn’t already know each other, but we found plenty to talk about.
Tour Guide and Tourist
Just as brunch was wrapping up, James and Davenne arrived from Paris for a week or so! It was a very spontaneous idea that they would come visit me in Vienna, but why not? More good visiting and another city to enjoy together.
Of course, I had regular work duties (and they brought some work along, too), but we still found time to walk around Schönbrunn, study blown and painted eggs at an Easter market, watch a great movie with Pauline (Woman in Gold – based on a true story about art restitution after WWII; I especially enjoyed all the familiar sights around Vienna, including a church square practically across the street from where I currently live), go jogging with Davenne, and bake a lemon pie that rivaled what we’d tasted in Paris.
While James and Davenne held down the fort for the weekend (my flatmate was away), I traveled with one of my school classes to Munich for a history field trip. Munich was the birthplace of the Nazi party and remained the party headquarters throughout the war. So, there is a lot of (infamous) history, and we visited both a documentation center and the university where a student uprising led to disastrous results (if you know the movie Sophie Scholl…) We also saw some of the city sights. (I caught myself feeling funny that I could speak German in this city that is both very different than Vienna, and also similar in other ways!). It was a privilege to get to know colleagues a bit better.
…A story from Munich:
The priest starts the sermon with the statement that the Resurrection was not an historical event. Wait – did I hear that right? Maybe it the echo-y hall, the language barrier. He carries on: No one saw the Resurrection as it happened, so it can’t be proven. But, he appeared (bodily? In some sort of inner experience?) to the Disciples, to the disciples down through history who have believed, met Him in some way, spread the message. The Resurrection is a present reality to be experienced and believed, not a historical fact that may or may not have actually happened.
I sit with a group of 11th graders and fellow teachers from our Catholic school in Vienna, taking in morning mass in the Holy Ghost church in Munich, after a weekend of exploring the city and its history. Afterwards, the kids head off on an hour’s photography project, and we teachers opt for a café in the sun on the main square. The talk turns to the sermon. We all agree that the Resurrection cannot be empirically proven, but then opinions divide. One of our number suggests that the value of the Biblical narrative of the Resurrection, or of other miracles, is chiefly in the meaning behind what’s written, and a more metaphorical reading is a gracious and enlightened response to the doubts engendered by what we are taught by the laws of nature and the findings of science. For my part, I think it makes a world of difference whether Jesus actually rose again or not. If Jesus is maybe risen, why, for crying out-loud, do we pray to Him, request His presence, or celebrate His Cross?
The “real meaning” behind the miracle is for me inseparable from God actually intervening in a surprising – miraculous – way in history and, on the other hand, quite independent of my propensities to skepticism or unbelief.
It was both a good and frustrating discussion with the other teachers. I wonder what the students took away from the sermon, or from similar messages they get at school or perhaps in their local parish. Will they relegate the Resurrection to the realm of metaphor? Will they turn in disbelief from an empty fable, an embarrassingly outdated story? Will they be robbed of the joy and power of the Gospel by trying to force God into the walls of the world He created? Or, will they cling to Him, the Ground and Source of reality – the Truth who upholds them in faith and doubt, who has stepped into their world and who will appear again (“to be marveled at among all who have believed”)?
…On a lighter note, what some people do in a park in Munich on Saturday morning:
…Shortly after I got back from Munich and then James and Davenne headed on to visit her brother in Berlin, I welcomed other guests from Hamburg! Some will remember my writing about Olga, the dear friend and violinist who lived with me and Rachel for a number of weeks last year. I got to meet her roommates in Hamburg last July, and so now Olga and Vero made a trip together to Vienna!
Sadly, I didn’t have as many free hours as I would have liked to have had! But, Olga got to show Vero around the city, and we shared good talks, some walking, and a visit to Olga and my favorite café, among other things. It was great to have Olga back at church for one Sunday, as well as for the German home group mid-week. And, a time with Olga wouldn’t be complete without some ridiculous giggles – and serious conversation. Two reasons I cherish this friend!
Although the people who have peopled this post all deserve more space, my readers are probably not only in a culinary-vocabulary-induced-stupor, but a bit überfordert (overwhelmed) with sheer words. So, I will bid each “Adieu!” for now and sign out with one last photo.